Some months ago, I received the following note from Tony Signore of Michigan, and it contains a nugget I think we could all use a moment's reflection on: the value of emotional constancy.
“Discipline without emotion”
Dave, [your article on reminder strategies] made me reflect on how important it is to break down core beliefs. When I was a younger teacher, I used to get upset with students over things like not getting work turned in on time, or at all. Emotionally I had a tendency to let it get the better of me. It usually created a power struggle between myself and the student. One day I decided to write down my goal towards discipline and classroom management, and it was this: “Discipline without emotion.” It was written, and still is, on a small box that holds eraser caps. I see it all the time. It keeps me focused on the type of teacher I strive to be. I wish I could say that since then I have never had a student “push my buttons,” but I always come back to this core belief. There is power in working through noise and putting core beliefs in writing.
First, I appreciate that Tony took the time to reflect on how he was managing his classroom, and he faced the gap between his goals for classroom management and his reality. Without this kind of internal work, we become burnt-out externalists — nobody gets into teaching hoping for that outcome.
Second, Tony hits on what is probably my favorite idea from Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion: emotional constancy, or “managing your emotions to consistently promote student learning and achievement” . We need our students to respect us if our words are to have maximum access to their hearts, and I think one of the key moments in every school year that I earn the respect of my students is when I maintain emotional constancy in the face of behaviors or situations that frustrate me. When the class doesn't turn in homework and we analyze the problem calmly and rationally, that's emotional constancy. When a student with low social intelligence does something that annoys most of the class (again) and I calmly teach the student a more socially intelligent way to behave, that's emotional constancy. When a student gets a wrong answer and we neither chasten nor excuse it, or when a student gets a right answer and we neither flatter or fuss about it, that's emotional constancy.
Third, I want to reiterate the key work Tony did: he compared the type of teacher he strives to be and the type of teaching happening in his classroom, and he came up with a strategy (very high-tech — the top of a small box for eraser caps) for reminding himself of his Everest. The result has been a net gain for Tony and for Tony's students.